When the Greek and I returned from my winter vacation, we were in for an unpleasant surprise. Our refrigerator had turned off while we were away and everything in it had spoiled: the apple jelly and chutney we had made in the fall after going apple picking in northern California, the various condiments that we liked to use to give our food a little boost (that is, everything but the sriracha; much like the cockroach and the rat, sriracha is forever), the ice cream that we are never without and, worst of all, the jar of Matcha Milk Jam that I had decadently bought at Craftsman and Wolves after getting my first paycheck in the fall after months of unemployment.
Always one to try to find the silver lining, however, I decided that not only did this mean that our refrigerator would now be stupendously clean for the new year, but that I could also use this opportunity to try to recreate the Matcha Milk Jam at home. But even though I always have a ready supply of matcha powder for any tea drinking or baking whim and would happily consume it on a daily basis, I suddenly felt that I needed to try something different. I needed to make a milk jam flavor of my own.
Milk jam, which is also known as dulce de leche (candy of milk or, literally, jam of milk) or confiture de lait, is similar to sweetened condensed milk, but is thicker and more caramelized in terms of its flavor. In different countries, it comes in different flavors: in India, it is flavored with cardamom and eaten as dessert; in France, it is served with fromage blanc; in Puerto Rico, it’s said to be made from unsweetened coconut milk. In short, the possibilities are endless.
For me, if I was going to abandon my love of Japanese flavors, there was only one other path to embark on. In the past year, I developed a serious interest in Persian cooking. I found the flavor combinations–rose, lemon, saffron, walnut, cinnamon, cardamom, pomegranate, lime and pistachio–to be nothing short of inspiring, as well as aesthetically pleasing to the eye. When I thought of the milk jam flavor that would reflect my current kitchen love affair, it combined several of these flavors: namely rose, cinnamon and lemon.
Although I like to use rosewater when cooking, I also sometimes feel that it’s too potent; if you add one drop too many, your food can quickly go from pleasantly flavored to overly floral (i.e. soapy; I find this to be a similar problem when cooking or baking with lavender). Because of this, I decided to use the dried rose petals that I had picked up at a local Middle Eastern market when I baked this Turkish cake. If you have any tea filter bags (I like these ones), it’s really quite simple to stuff the bag with your flavors of choice and to attach it to the side of the pan (yes, that’s a binder clip; this was a very ad hoc kitchen project, but it worked!) so that it will infuse the gently simmering milk with its flavors. If any stray rose petals escape, they can easily be captured with cheesecloth or with a metal tea strainer.
I should add that I was hoping for this milk jam to take on a rosy hue as it ever so gently simmered (keep in mind that making milk jam can be a bit of a kitchen project; it takes about 2-2 1/2 hours to make and requires your attention since you have to watch to make sure that the milk doesn’t burn or form a skin), but it didn’t. Midway through making it, I decided that I could possibly add a bit of color by adding a few hibiscus leaves to the tea bag; while this did result in my getting a few beautiful swirls of purple, they faded away once I stirred the mixture. Had I had some pomegranate molasses (this too had perished in the fridge), I might have added a few drops for a tangy note, as well as a splash of color. All of that being said, a muted milk jam is better than no milk jam at all and, if you make this, I’m sure you’ll feel the same.
It’s the kind of spread that can be used to sandwich cookies, to fill thumbprints, to be hidden between two layers of spongy cake, or to be eaten by the spoonful on the sly. That short list doesn’t even begin to exhaust its possible uses.
Making a Persian-style milk jam wasn’t enough for me. In one of my more whimsical moments, I decided to make semi-fancy toasts for breakfast; I called them Persian Milk Jam toasts: walnut bread (here’s the recipe I used), Rose Petal and Lemon Milk Jam, Sour Cherry Preserves and a scattering of dried rose petals. It’s as good a use for this spread as any of the others.
General milk jam tips:
Use caster sugar or, if you don’t have it in your pantry, put some granulated sugar in the food processor and make your own. This will make for a smoother milk jam.
Apparently, using baking soda (1/4-1/2 teaspoon) will give your milk jam a more caramelized appearance.
Rose Petal and Lemon Milk Jam
Method inspired by Farmette
2 cups whole milk
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
200 grams granulated sugar, ground in the food processor and turned into caster sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons dried rose petals
2-3 strips (about 2 inches each) lemon peel
1 cinnamon stick
a few hibiscus leaves
-In a small filter bag, combine the dried rose petals, strips of lemon peel, 1 cinnamon stick and a few hibiscus leaves. Attach to the side of a small saucepan (I recommend a binder clip).
-Add the milk, caster sugar and sea salt to the saucepan and stir to combine.
-Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once the milk starts to bubble, turn down the heat to the lowest possible setting immediately. You don’t want the milk to froth, burn or to form a skin.
-Continue to simmer ever so gently for about 2 to 2 1/2 hours or until reduced by about half, stirring the mixture every 10 minutes. If necessary, skim any foam that appears with a cheesecloth.
-Once the milk jam has reached your desired consistency (it can be as thick or as thin as you like, although do remember that it will continue to thicken as it cools, place it in a sterilized jar and allow it to cool before putting the lid on and placing it in the fridge.
Persian Milk Jam Toasts
Rose Lemon Milk Jam
Sour Cherry preserves
crushed rose petals, for decorating
Toast your bread and slather it with milk jam. Place a spoonful of sour cherry preserves in the center of the slice and then sprinkle the toast with dried rose petals.